Man and Society in Adam Smith’s Natural Morality: The Impartial Spectator, the Man of System, and the Invisible Hand
Ross B. Emmett
Michigan State University - James Madison College; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center
April 27, 2010
IN ADAM SMITH AS THEOLOGIAN, Paul Oslington, ed., London: Routledge, Forthcoming
One often hears the argument that Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments provides a basis for the construction of a morality independent of a religion based on revelation. Central to this argument is Smith’s impartial spectator, whose study of human motivation through observation of the diversity of our actions shapes our capacity to both judge the motives of our present actions and inform our future ones. To the extent that one’s moral imagination attends to the impartial spectator, one’s judgment of actions will conform to a moral standard founded on human experience rather religious revelation.
One also hears frequently the argument that Smith’s defense of his system of natural liberty in the Wealth of Nations is simultaneously the defense of an Augustinian-like theodicy in which God provides a natural remedy to human sinfulness. Central to this argument is the invisible hand of market forces, which allocate resources in a way conducive to our common interests, even though their placement is directed by the personal interests of the individual economic actors. To the extent that our social interactions are framed by institutions that allow natural liberty, they it be mutually beneficial to participants in a way that could not be approximated by external direction.
My purpose is to connect these two arguments via another figure from TMS, the man of system.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 13
Keywords: Adam Smith, invisible hand, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Wealth of Nations
JEL Classification: A13, B12
Date posted: May 28, 2009 ; Last revised: September 5, 2010